HOUSTON -- Two players on Cuba's national soccer team didn't show up for a tournament in Houston and team officials worried the two had defected.
The Cubans lost in Houston Wednesday night in the first round of the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament and were eliminated. After the 5-0 loss to Honduras, Cuban coach Raul Gonzalez declined to say whether Osvaldo Alonso and Lester More defected.
More apparently went missing at a previous stop in East Rutherford, N.J.; Alonso didn't return from a group shopping trip before the game in Houston.
"I'm a football man, not a politician. I will not answer that question,'' Gonzalez told reporters.
"They went for the gold. I hope they don't end up with thorns. The ones who take another road take it because they want to take it.''
Zac Emmons, Gold Cup spokesman, said the team planned to fly back to Cuba on Thursday morning. Gonzalez and Alonso had checked out of their hotel on Thursday morning.
CONCACAF, the governing body of soccer, issued a statement before the game saying it would not comment on rumors of a Cuban defection.
No one answered at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. A call to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which would handle defections, was not immediately returned.
Cuban athletes have defected from the communist country while in international competitions outside Cuba. In 2005, forward Maykel Galindo defected during a Gold Cup tournament in Seattle.
Cuba is a powerhouse in international baseball and at least 20 players have defected since 1991. Some have had great success in the major leagues.
In October 2002, Jose Contreras, a pitcher, defected while playing for his national team during a tournament in Mexico. He signed with the New York Yankees two months later. Contreras played for the Cuban team that won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics.
Livan Hernandez, another pitcher, defected in September 1995. His half-brother, Orlando, was detained by Cuban security officials in July 1996 and banned from playing for his country three months later. Orlando Hernandez, a member of the gold-medal winning team at the 1992 Olympics, defected late in 1997.
Livan Hernandez signed with the Florida Marlins in 1996 and Florida won the World Series the next year, with Hernandez named Most Valuable Player. Orlando Hernandez signed with the Yankees in 1998 and New York won the World Series in each of his first three seasons.
Orlando Hernandez signed with the Chicago White Sox before the 2005 season, joining Contreras on the pitching staff. Contreras won Game 1 of the 2005 World Series and Hernandez pitched a scoreless inning in Game 3, helping Chicago sweep the Houston Astros.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press